Baptism and Home

I can remember coming home from 3+ years of mission in Kenya, friends were driving me home, and as we wound through trees, I could see the porch light on at my home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Even from afar, it shone like a welcoming beacon. It was the sign I am home in a place I have always belonged. It was known, calm, and safe. It was far from the wildness and messiness of life of the slums of Kibera. It is the same moment we have seen on the evening news, in newspapers, on-line in the experience of our men and women serving overseas in foreign lands. Coming home writ large is the heavy bags dropped on the tarmac, the faces of unbridled joy, parents sweeping up children in their arms, a loved one embraced, and the moment they know: I am home.

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My Beloved Son

Next Sunday, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Originally, this was celebrated as part of The Epiphany. But over time, the visit of the magi became the dominate theme and focus. In 1955, Pope Pius XII instituted a distinct celebration that focuses solely on the baptism of Jesus. In the West, Roman Catholic celebrate the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday following Epiphany… although in a year when the Epiphany falls on Sunday January 7th or 8th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated the next day, Monday.

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:7-11)

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Set as a covenant

Over the Christmas season, the gospels we proclaim are so familiar, so memorable, that perhaps we a prone to listen to the other readings as but prelude to the story of the Christ Child. Prelude they are indeed, but they in themselves are also the powerful Word of God come to us. Perhaps none more powerful than the Prophet Isaiah or St. Paul. This week we hear Isaiah mightily proclaim: “I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people.” (Is 42:6) While they are indeed prophecy pointing to Jesus and his mission, they are also words proclaimed to us, to the baptized, those thus commissioned and sent into the world for the victory of justice. Continue reading

The in-breaking

Next Sunday is the The Baptism of the Lord in Year A. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” 15 Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. 16 After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. 17 And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:13-17) Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: final thought

baptism-of-JesusThe Theology of History. It is interesting to note that Luke relates no encounter between Jesus and John. In fact, before we are told about Jesus’ baptism, we are informed that John has been put in prison! A traditional way of understanding this order of events is that Luke (the rhetorical historian) divides history into three separate and distinct eras. The first is the time of the prophets, which includes John the Baptist. That era ends with the imprisonment of John. John will no longer be in the picture. After that, the time of Jesus begins with a statement in our text about: (1) the opening of the heaven, (2) the coming down of the Holy Spirit in a visible form (dove); and (3) heavenly speech. This era of Jesus ends with his ascension — related only in Luke & Acts. Jesus will no longer be in the picture. After that, the time of the Holy Spirit (or the Church) begins with a statement in Acts 2:1-4 about (1) something coming “from heaven,” (2) the coming down of the Holy Spirit in a visible form (tongues of fire), and (3) heavenly speech. Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: Father

baptism-of-JesusA Voice From Heaven. The voice in Luke, as in Mark, speaks directly to Jesus. We overhear the words. In Matthew’s account of the baptism and all three accounts of the transfiguration, the voice speaks to those around Jesus: “This is my son….”

What does it mean to be the “Son of God?” Luke provides answers to this in the larger context. The baptism in Luke is followed by a genealogy which ends with “son of God.” This is followed by the temptation story where the devil tries to help Jesus get a “better” understanding. Twice he states: “If you are the Son of God” (4:3, 9). Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: Spirit

baptism-of-Jesus“the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove”

Only Luke includes the phrase “in bodily form”. Jensen (Preaching Luke’s Gospel) makes the point that “Bodily descent has the character of permanence. The Spirit not only descended upon Jesus; the Spirit of God came in bodily form and it will remain upon Jesus.” He makes a contrast between Jesus and Israel’s “charismatic judges” on whom the Spirit of God descended temporarily. Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: gathered

baptism-of-Jesus15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire……. 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Continue reading

Baptism of the Lord: context

baptism-of-JesusIn our celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we draw an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke (3:15-16, 21-22) which describes, in minimal terms, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire……. 21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Continue reading

Your story

baptism-of-JesusOne of my seminary classmates told me of a nice tradition his religious community maintained. Each priest had his own book, The Rite of Baptism of Children, and written on the front inside cover was the name of the priest and the first child that he baptized. It was their way of remembering the ministry to which they were called and that they were always called in service of others. The simple notation in the Rite book was the beginning of two stories: a story of vocation and a story of Christian beginning. Continue reading